- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Brother-in-law is on the bow with a light popping outfit, searching for tripletail beneath the grass that has collected along a fine rip. Conditions are ideal for sight-fishing—almost flat calm, a bright sky, and clear-green water on the outside of the rip—and it doesn't take long before the first 'tail graces the cooler. I'll let him catch two, then we'll swap spots.
Within minutes he again tenses up, grunts something incomprehensible twice, and lobs out a short cast just as I slip the outboard into neutral. Then a great brown beast appears from beneath the bow, heading directly for the ridiculously small jig dangling a foot or so beneath the popping cork. In an instant the cork begins slicing a furrow across the Gulf's placid surface.
"Hit him," I scream, and 14-pound line immediately begins to rapidly disappear from the little casting reel. But good teamwork prevails and Bro-in-law soon has claim to a 45-pound cobia. He is naturally ecstatic; I am not at all surprised at our fortune.
Though not known as a particularly intelligent species, size, strength and table quality make the cobia a welcome catch.
Cobia are one of the nearshore Gulf's most popular pelagic species. Almost shark-like in appearance, they can exceed 100 pounds in weight, though an "average" size during summer might be between 20 and 40—give or take 10 or 20! They pull hard with short, strong runs, occasionally they will jump, and they are absolutely delicious when grilled, saut?, or even fried, the reason for some pretty tight possession restrictions on them. They are also eaten up with curiosity, your outboard's lower unit being a subject of interest quite common to them, and when they haven't been subjected to a lot of pressure, they can appear to be just about as dumb as dirt.
My Kind Of Fish
Cobia prefer warm waters and are found in temperate areas worldwide. They can be widely traveled, with results from tagging studies revealing that the fish occasionally move from the Gulf into the Atlantic and vice versa. Those that are of interest to northern Gulf anglers spend the winter in south Florida waters or deep around petroleum platforms in 150- to 200-foot depths. A westward migration of sorts begins in March along the Florida Panhandle's beaches and ends in May off Mississippi's Horn Island, then the fish move offshore for the summer. A "reverse migration" occurs in November, though it is comprised of notably fewer fish. In between those movements cobia are normally targeted in three fashions, all of which are built around the fish's inherent attraction to structure.
Channel markers, buoys, and even jetties extending into depths of 20 feet or more can hold these fish. On days with light currents cobia can be found on the surface just beneath or beside them, and sight fishing is the rule. Otherwise they must be prospected for.
The same two techniques apply to the second primary summer pattern: petroleum platforms. Those can range in type from single caisson-supported wells to full-blown multi-legged production facilities and stand in water from 20 to 400 feet deep or more. Here, too, current is what usually determines the sight-fishing option. However, more consistent action frequently comes from the depths, both by directed efforts and by fish following hooked snappers and such to the surface. When fishing one of these structures, if you are not using cobia-appropriate tackle and enticers, always have a suitable outfit rigged, ready and close at hand should one suddenly appear nearby. They are quite prone to do just that!
Anytime you're fishing near oil rigs and platforms during summer, make sure to have a cobia rod rigged up and ready for action.
The final pattern is my favorite. It is the one where eager (dumb?) fish are most likely to be encountered, the one that offers the best chance of not having the fish cut your line on a barnacle-encased piling or cable, and the one that led to the capture of Bro-in-law's fine fish: offshore rips. These are caused by clashes of current directions and frequently separate "dirty" water from clear. The temperature on one side is usually different from that on the other, and as they move back and forth across the Gulf they tend to collect all sorts of flotsam.
While various oceanic and interior vegetation is frequently found along them, rips also accumulate such lovely forms of cobia-structure as wooden pallets, logs, 5-gallon buckets, 55-gallon drums, life jackets, rope, ice-chest lids, dead turtles, and so forth. These items create havens for a host of prey species, and even the often not too bright cobia have become conditioned to this chow line. Find one cruising the surface alongside a rip, and you can be assured he is there for the single purpose of finding something to eat.
And that brings up the subject of enticers. As far as natural baits go, common eels and sea catfish—around 6 to 8 inches long and with their dorsal and pectoral spines removed—are two of the most popular. A not-so-natural bait that once worked for me was a fried, breaded pork chop, bone in. No kidding! These fish will eat almost anything!
So while those that have survived a degree of molestation while holding to a buoy or channel marker might demand a live bait, most others will not be so particular. In most cases artificials work just fine. They should be geared to both sight-fishing and deep prospecting, and they don't have to mimic anything in particular, just something that looks like it might be good to eat.
Cobia have very strong, tough jaws, a result, I'd assume, of their fondness for blue crabs. They can easily destroy a treble hook, therefore lures with STOUT single hooks are best. For sight fishing, a 3/8-ounce jig-head with a size 4/0 hook and dressed with a 4-inch soft-plastic wiggle-tail grub works well; a 2-ounce head with a size 6/0 hook and a 6-inch curly-tail grub is a good choice for deep prospecting.
No, it's not a shark, but cobia can often make one think otherwise. The fish are excellent candidates for light tackle wherever conditions allow.
While some fairly heavy tackle is required for working buoys, channel markers and platforms in order to prevent the fish from cutting itself off, much lighter gear can be used along the rips. A favorite outfit is a 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy "pitching stick," a Penn 965 casting reel, and 17-pound mono with about three feet of 50-pound fluorocarbon attached with an Albright knot for fray resistance. However, as Bro-in-law so finely illustrated, you can go lighter than that.
Cobia are also one of the best "big-fish" fly-fishing targets in the northern Gulf. Fact is, over the past eight years all but three of the respectable number of cobia I have caught have been on flies. I prefer a 12-weight outfit and size 3/0 Deceiver-type flies ("attractor patterns"). The cast puts the fly right in front of the fish, and the retrieve is immediately begun with moderately fast, foot-long strips. And don't yank when you see the fish eat the fly! Wait until you feel its weight, then give it a couple of firm strip-strikes with the line.
Whatever your preference in tackle, cobia provide an outstanding summer opportunity in the nearshore Gulf. But understand you will have to work for them, so bring along plenty of water. Keep a wet towel rolled up in an ice-chest to cool your head and the back of your neck, and don't be ashamed to turn on the air conditioner occasionally (Run the boat around at high speed for a while). You surely wouldn't want to miss the festivities by getting sick!